My Blueberry Nights (**)
When critics scoffed at Wong Kar-Wai’s English language debut My Blueberry Nights at Cannes last year, it was as much a pronouncement on the film itself as a troubled look inward. Could it be that the acclaimed director of such contemporary art house classics as Chungking Express, Happy Together and In the Mood for Love had finally revealed himself to Western cinephiles as a vapid stylist whose deliberately loose handling of plot, character and dialogue was sloppy, rather than inspired?
My Blueberry Nights is a lousy film, to be sure, but it is also a lousy Wong Kar-Wai film: rather than exposing him as a charlatan, it merely reinforces his shortcomings—ones evident even with the language barrier intact. A director this reliant on atmospherics must be willing to concede defeat from time to time; Wong’s trademark use of repetitive snippets of songs, for instance (a tactic lifted shamelessly from Godard), is just as impotent and annoying in My Blueberry Nights as it is in Chungking Express (the former substituting Cat Power’s “The Greatest” for the latter’s Cantonese version of “Dreams” by The Cranberries) and nowhere near as effective as it is in In the Mood for Love, with its haunting “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás” motif.
Similarly, where Mood’s static plot brilliantly complements its theme of erotic repression, My Blueberry Nights is stalling and sophomoric. The film tells the silly story of a heartbroken girl (Norah Jones) who hangs out in a New York café with owner Jeremy (Jude Law) and then takes off for Tennessee and Nevada, working as a waitress and encountering an alcoholic (David Strathairn), his unfaithful wife (Rachel Weisz) and a pert gambling addict (Natalie Portman) along the way. It’s a thin conceit worthy of a Vanity Fair shoot, not a feature film: My Blueberry Nights’s superfluous slow-mo sequences (another Wong trademark), rich palette and uniformly gorgeous cast are also reminiscent of ’90s music videos, for which celebrities frequently made stiff cameo appearances as Americana clichés.
This means, of course, that My Blueberry Nights is often screamingly funny, and not altogether unintentionally so. If it does any good, it may be to underscore to English speakers just how lighthearted Wong can be. After all, a distant, glamorous look in a film is often as amusing as it is sublime—no matter what language eventually comes out of its bearer’s mouth.—David Balzer
My Blueberry Nights is now playing at the Varsity (55 Bloor St. W.).